Movie review: 'Hitchcock' - 4 stars
Directed by Sacha Gervasi
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel
To watch Anthony Hopkins play Alfred Hitchcock in "Hitchcock" is to experience an onscreen transformation that's so complete, so comprehensive, it's as if the real person has been revived. This is Daniel Day-Lewis territory.
But Sacha Gervasi's movie offers much more than that riveting transformation. An insider look at the making of "Psycho" in 1959, "Hitchcock" reflects the mischievous persona of its protagonist. Written by John J. McLaughlin, the film utilizes sharp humor and a keen sense of the macabre to vividly depict Hitch's creative process, his inner life and the mid-century Hollywood he called home.
The film opens with the legend coming off the smashing success of "North by Northwest" and desperate for a fresh challenge. He finds it in an unlikely place: "Psycho," a nasty little novel by Robert Bloch about a man and his mother.
The movie looks at the challenge of setting up the gritty, intensely disturbing project at the apex of the studio era, when all Paramount wanted out of Hitch was self-plagiarism. It depicts the enormous risks he took by going ahead with the movie and the ways the burdensome production began affecting his marriage to Alma (Helen Mirren), his biggest supporter and invaluable creative partner.
Gervasi offers a full dose of period Hollywood glamour: Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Norman Bates himself, Anthony Perkins (James D'Arcy), play prominent parts here. The "Psycho" set bustles with the excitement and frenzy of a classic soundstage production. It's a symphony and Hitch is the conductor.
But this isn't just lightweight backstage stuff. The movie delves into the protagonist's dark subconscious, as imagined conversations with Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), a real life serial killer who inspired Norman, give the film a sinister edge. Hitch's snarky witticisms, doled out expertly by Hopkins, straddle the line between creative and creepy.
In the end, though, Gervasi and his star shatter the genius façade and transcend the famous profile. They reveal a man grappling with a crippling sense of inadequacy and the burning need to stay fresh on the job, to prove himself over and over again. "Hitchcock" goes in search of the person instead of the myth. And it finds that he was just like the rest of us.